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The following is a list of all entries from the Alternatives category.

Every Little Helps – May 2011

Every Little HelpsApril’s over and summer’s starting. Our garden’s in all-out growth but our trees are thirsty, so it’s always too dry.

Water’s an important in sustainable thinking – moving water around and making it clean takes lots of energy. Most (60%) of water used in the UK is for domestic purposes, including garden watering. We normally use around 140 litres each day. The average family’s annual water use releases as much CO2 as two transatlantic flights – so we can have an impact on water (and energy and CO2) use.

Metering water can prompt a 4% reduction in use since, with a meter, you can see water usage directly: a shower costs around 9p and uses 35-40 litres; a bath is 18p using 80 litres; flushing is 2p for around 8 litres and a dishwasher cycle costs 5p for 20 litres.

However, watering the garden with a hose for one hour costs £1.23 and uses 540 litres. Most hose-water runs off the surface – not good for plants or soil.

How to reduce garden watering? Well, big butts, mulching and micro-watering make sense. Muswell Hill was named after a Mossy Well and there are many underground streams locally. Unfortunately, well are very costly and can lead to long-term problems if the underlying clay dries out. Big butts, collecting rainwater running off roofs, is relatively cheap and viable, though the water soon runs out if you connect a hose.

Mulching – covering soil with something that lets water through but slows evaporation – means any watering you (or the heavens) do lasts longer. Mulches include bark chips, old leaves, well-rotted manure, crushed shells and gravels – each with their pros and cons.

Once mulched, try micro-watering. Basically, you can deliver the right amount of water for a shrub, tree or pot, reducing waste and over-watering. A starter kit’s around £100 but can be extended. It’s fit and forget (but watch out for frosts). Get a timer – watering in the dark is best for plants. Works with butts but only if they are raised well above the ground.

Dripping of summer lawns anyone?


Every Little Helps – July 2010

There’s something about British summers that means strawberries and cream. Possibly global warming? I’m in Tony’s Continental and drawn to the punnets at the front, only to be faced with a choice: English or perhaps Spanish strawberries?

Now, I aim to “do less harm” wherever I can, weighing up emotional, financial, gustatory, economic and even ecological factors.

There’s the “buy British” influence – when I was growing up, it was fashionable to do that. I happen to think British strawberries tend to have more of the flavour I remember from then, too. Then there’s price … they’re very similar, amazingly – I mean, how come fresh berries can be flown 1,000 miles in air-conditioned luxury, all year round and still be the same price as ones from (somewhere) up the road? Last on my list of things to think about is the “carbon footprint” of those tender morsels …

Problem is I don’t really know how strawberries are grown commercially. I guess some are “organic”, whatever that means (must look into that) For the moment, I’m taking it as meaning no nasty chemicals used in the growing. When I see the tiny “wild” strawberries we grow in our garden and the queue of slugs, I start thinking nasty chemicals might be a good idea. Perhaps coffee grounds instead?

Anyway, apparently the UK strawberry market is close to 60,000 tons per year, of which 85% is from UK suppliers. The UK season is May to mid-Autumn, due mainly to growing in poly-tunnels (plastic greenhouse) using new varieties. Poly-tunnels used to mean 70 tons of water used for every ton of strawberries: modern methods can cut that down to 10 tons of water used. Outside of the UK season, fresh strawberries have to come from overseas.

So … I think I’ll buy British, since my preferred taste seems to be the “least harm” option, and I’ll just have to wait for strawberries to be in (UK) season. As for the cream … that’s another story.

Gresham College/London Accord Event

Went to the Museum of London today to one of a series of talks hosted by Gresham College, organised by The London Accord. Now, I’d not really heard about either of these organisations, but went along cos the event sounded interesting: “The London Accord Spring Conference – Climate Change: Structuring Cleantech Investment”. Also it was free, also there were drinks after.

As a member of the Muswell Hill Sustainability Group (and shareholder in the North London energy generator company en10ergy) I was very interested in how investment in “cleantech” could be brought about. Basically, the city were up for securitisation of debt for green developments – provided they were large-scale projects close to the UK. Little loans for retro-fit home insulation/micro generation were not suitable.

As a householder, I was also interested in more info on grants etc … didn’t get much about that at the event. The second panel discussion seemed to conclude that grants in London were a mess – and that there was more chance of getting grants via the EU. One speaker said (more or less) if you want to make a difference, go do it by yourself.

I met the organiser, Professor Michael Mainelli, of the Z/Yen Group, at the drinks afterwards. He encouraged me to contact the Mayor’s representative on carbon reduction, Isabel Dedring – I will try that. However, he’s pretty clear that – as far as the city is concerned – global warming isn’t a real issue. Depressingly short-sighted?

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